No One Ever Asks to Have a Writer in the Family

Posted: October 29, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

I was listening to my favorite podcast the other night.  The woman being interviewed, Joanna Brooks, came from a traditional, conservative family but she is quite the outspoken liberal.  The interviewer asked if this caused any stress in her family.  She replied, “No one ever asks to have a writer in their family, no one.”

That is true in many ways.  For Ms. Brooks, it was taking a public stance as an outspoken, liberal, feminist Mormon that caused the heartburn in her parents’ lives.  For anyone near me, it’s a matter of putting up with the grammar police.  I can’t help it.  English is a confusing enough language, what with all of its rules that were meant to be broken and crazy homonyms, but when you throw in an utter disregard for punctuation, you are flirting with disaster.  Punctuation makes this language sing.  It makes it comprehensible.

I once knew a young man who was dyslexic in a way that caused him to not see punctuation.  Literally not see it.  I don’t understand how this happens, since punctuation is a mark on the page like any other letter.  Perhaps it isn’t large enough to register in his mind.  I once watched him try to pass a cup through a wrought iron fence to hand it to someone on the patio which was higher up on the backyard from where he was standing.  It took him a number of tries to get it right.  Solid objects and the spaces around them didn’t translate in his mind the same way that they would do for you or me.   To better see through his eyes, I gave a typist friend a page of text and asked her to retype it, omitting all the punctuation marks.  After much cursing, she managed to produce it. (Note:  never ask a typist to almost recreate something.  If she is good, she types on auto pilot.  This leads to massive frustration and loses you friends.)  Trying to read that page took a little bit of effort.  You have to continually go back and forth, trying to figure out where one thought ends and another one starts.  If you’re curious about what it’s like to read a non-punctuated paragraph, I’ll give you a sample.  Here is the next paragraph, but without any punctuation:

I work with quite a few people who are not native speakers of English specifically people from India my day job job is in software development and India is a leading producer of tech people all of them have studied English in school but they come with varied levels of proficiency the most consistent problems that cause communication difficulties lie with punctuation and the inability to remember to use articles of speech they also have a tendency to capitalize things at inopportune moments but that doesnt jar as much as finding a period full stop for those of you raised on British English at the end of every phrase good golly that makes things confusing  Ive tried to learn something of the grammar of their native languages but I havent gotten anywhere in that effort India is the most polyglot of nations with 398 known languages and twentytwo languages being recognized as official  most of the Indians with whom I work cannot communicate with each other except by speaking English

I work with quite a few people who are not native speakers of English, specifically people from India.  My day job job is in software development, and India is a leading producer of tech people.  All of them have studied English in school, but they come with varied levels of proficiency.  The most consistent problems that cause communication difficulties lie with punctuation and the inability to remember to use articles of speech.  Speakers of Indian English also have a tendency to capitalize things at inopportune moments, but that doesn’t jar as much as finding a period (full stop for those of you raised on British English) at the end of every phrase.  Good golly, that makes things confusing.  I’ve tried to learn something of the grammar of their native languages, but I haven’t gotten anywhere in that effort.  India is the most polyglot of nations, with 398 known languages and twenty-two languages being recognized as official.  Most of the Indians with whom I work cannot communicate with each other except by speaking English.

I try to gently coach my friends without the writer in me turning into the grammar police, but it’s hard.  I love this language, frustrating though it may be.  It’s difficult to get them to understand that you don’t capitalize every Noun.  I want them to understand that “the”, “a” and “an” are viable parts of the language.  I try to get them to recognize the difference between the possessive case the plural voice and a contraction so that the silly little apostrophe goes in the proper place, that there is a big difference between “its” and “it’s” , “your” and “you’re”, “girls” and “girl’s”.  I want them have every advantage for succeeding as a business professional, and proper grammar is still necessary for that.  One frustrated friend exclaimed, “Chris, English has so many rules!”  Indeed, it does, but without them we sink into anarchy.

I must admit that it isn’t only my friends at work that suffer the grammar police.  My poor partner has to live with not only the grammar police, but the spelling police as well.  I have at times bitten my tongue bloody in the interest of maintaining a union that is entering its twenty-third year.  Love can overcome anything.

If you have not yet read Lynne Truss’s “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”, please pick it up for an uproariously entertaining lecture on the necessity of proper punctuation.  If you are a writer, it should already sit on your shelf of reference books.  Go forth and punctuation!

And remember that no one ever asks to have a writer in the family, especially when the writer turns into the grammar police.

With that, i come to a Full Stop

Blessings!

NaNoWriMo starts in two days!

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Comments
  1. Louise (RB Akrotiri) says:

    Hahaha! This reminded me of a funny poster that tells us that punctuation saves lives. There is a big difference between “Let’s eat Grandpa!” and “Let’s eat, Grandpa!”. With the rise of “phone text” language, I say bring back the grammar police!!!

  2. veehcirra says:

    this is very true, a comma or apostrophe at the wrong place can dramatically alter a message.

    Louise that is a really funny caption about grandpa, who knew commas were that powerful LOL

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